Balsamic vinegar – a traditional staple of the Italian city of Modena – dates back to the Middle Ages. With its intricate production method and unique taste, it adds a rich flavour to a variety of dishes. Not only that, it can also be infused with fruits, truffles and even black garlic to give a flavourful and aromatic taste.

Bringing an Irish twist to this tradition, however, are Susie Hamilton-Stubber and Bob McDonald of Burren Balsamics, from their base in Richhill, Co Armagh.

Humble beginnings

The journey of Burren Balsamics began a decade ago, when Susie made a few bottles of blueberry-infused balsamic vinegar.

“I was working in a veterinary practice at the time; however, I had always toyed with the idea of working for myself,” says Susie.

“One day I was in the Grainger Market in Newcastle [upon-Tyne] when the shopkeeper gave me a small bottle of infused balsamic vinegar and I fell in love with the taste.”

From there, Susie began researching and made her first batch of infused balsamic vinegar, selling it at a charity Christmas fair.

After a successful first batch, Susie kept experimenting, infusing balsamics with seasonal and local fruit she could find.

“I then decided I had to just go for it as I became excited about the endless possibilities,” she says.

As Burren Balsamics’ popularity began to grow, Bob McDonald, a chef from Glasgow, joined in 2017, after meeting Susie at a Dublin food trade show and chatting about all things balsamic.

With years of expertise in professional cooking, Bob says his background allowed him to understand current industry trends.

“Our initial conversation was centred around white balsamic vinegar, something a lot of people hadn’t heard of at the time,” says Bob.

“We both shared this passion for quality food production and wanted to switch up the condiments’ scene in Ireland, which led us to working together.”

It wasn’t long before Burren Balsamics started to gain recognition, winning prestigious titles including Best Artisan Product in Blás na hÉireann in both 2017 and 2019 and then winning 43 UK Great Taste stars.

In 2021, Burren Balsamics began supplying onion jam and tapas boxes to Aer Lingus on their international flights.

With that, they took flight and are now supplying their infused vinegars, relishes, chutneys and jams across the world with stockists including Harrods and luxury stores in Dubai and Mexico.

Susie Hamilton Stubber and Bob Mc Donald at Susie's home in Armagh.

Local delights

Sourcing quality and local ingredients for infusion is at the forefront of Susie and Bob’s production line.

“One massive thing for us is using as few additives as possible, to keep our products natural,” says Susie.

“Many supermarket balsamic vinegars come with sulphites and added caramel to make it dark but we use a vinegar that doesn’t need these additives.”

Based in the “orchard county” of Armagh, the availability of apples and other fresh fruit for infusion allows the pair to source many of their ingredients on their doorstep.

“Being able to get our Bramley apples from a mile down the road, reinforces our beliefs around sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint,” says Susie.

“We are also a zero-waste producer so where we use an ingredient to make the vinegar, we use the same ingredient to make a jam, chutney or relish with it.”

Hylda checking the wild garlic before it’s made into the wild garlic white balsamic.

The process

As balsamic is a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) product, Susie and Bob source the balsamic vinegar from a Modena producer who they work closely with.

“They are so into quality and have a passion for production, similar to ourselves, which makes the whole process really easy,” says Bob.

Originally Susie used a classical method of infusion, infusing her vinegars in wooden barrels, which took a number of weeks.

“Now by using a little bit of science, we place everything into a bag and use a machine to extract the oxygen so it intensifies in a very controlled way,” explains Bob.

“The heat needed to make flavours transfer is very low so it is safe and lightweight.”

When it comes to picking a favourite product, both Susie and Bob agree that their balsamic pearls are a clear winner.

Coming in a variety of flavours including Irish peat smoked citrus, blackberry and thyme, the pearls are skilfully crafted to burst in your mouth.

“I love them because they are a versatile and easy addition to a dish, our blackberry and thyme pearls for example can be used with steaks, salads and roasted vegetables,” says Susie.

“Our zingy citrus pearls compliment various seafood dishes but can also be used in cocktails as they are made with grapefruit, orange and limes.”

Bob says that another sought-after product is their black garlic infused balsamic vinegar.

“We work very closely with Irish TV chef Kwanghi Chan, who supplies the black garlic which I think is the best in the game,” he says.

“It is fermented over time to get a rich fragrant condiment, perfect for a bruschetta, roasts and casseroles.”

Both Susie and Bob are excited for what the future will hold for Burren Balsamics. With orders coming in thick and fast, they are providing a unique condiment where Armagh meets with Modena’s cherished cuisine to celebrate tradition and capture the tastebuds of food enthusiasts worldwide.

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In brief

•Balsamic vinegar is a dark, intensely flavoured vinegar, traditionally made from a grape that has been aged for several years in a barrel

•Balsamic vinegar of Modena is a culinary specialty produced exclusively in the province of Modena, Italy and has a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.

• This status signifies that a product’s production process is closely linked to a specific geographical area, highlighting its unique characteristics and quality

• Traditional balsamic vinegars are graded based on their age – Affinato (fine) around 12 years, Vecchio (old) about 15-20 years, Extra Vecchio +25 years

• The balsamic vinegar market is valued at US$323.5m at the start of 2024 and is anticipated to rise a considerable rate from 2024 to 2032.